Team Red Cross marathon runners have an inspiring mission to support, but they also have a motivating leader to guide them through the daunting process. Mark Buciak, 56, is a Chicagoan who has run more than 65 marathons (including 37 consecutive Boston Marathons). In 2017, he was honored as the Blood Services Hero by the American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois because he leads one of Chicago’s largest blood drives, collecting more than 1,500 pints over the years. Even in the face of a medical emergency and the devastating loss of his father, Mark continues to beat the odds, and encourages other runners to do the same.
In 2004, after more than 30 years of distance running, Mark was told he had a congenital heart defect. Two years later, doctors at Northwestern told him he needed heart surgery to save his life. As he headed to surgery, Mark reflected on the, now very personal, value of the blood he had been collecting.
After surgery, Mark began the slow climb back to health. He was determined not to let his heart surgery deter him from running his 28th Boston Marathon. Despite doctors’ recommendations, 11 weeks post-surgery, Mark flew to Boston to walk and jog the marathon. He finished “as they were shutting down the course. It was not my personal fastest, but it was my personal best,” he says.
Mark understands the importance of a healthy lifestyle. He eats right, has annual physicals, and donates blood after each physical as a way of saying thank you for another clean bill of health because he knows what it’s like otherwise.
Team Red Cross unites runners to support the mission of the American Red Cross through the Bank of America Chicago Marathon and the Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle 8K. Since 2007, more than $900,000 has been raised by Team Red Cross runners, who are motivated by Mark’s coaching and inspired by his story.
In 2013, Mark and his wife Barrie were running the Boston Marathon when two homemade bombs killed three people and injured more than 260. Barrie had just crossed the finish line and Mark had 1/4 mile to go when the race was stopped. Mark says being in the thick of that tragedy reaffirmed his commitment to the gift of life.
“More than a marathon, it was a race of good versus evil,” he says. “And how could good win the race? One of the suggestions for making American stronger was to donate a pint of blood. After that race, when we got home, Barrie and I donated blood. Technology can keep people alive and cure many diseases, but it cannot manufacture blood. There is only one source and that is you.”